Monday, October 16, 2017

An Inaccurate List



When Capt. John Smith wrote home about his experiences in the New World, he mentioned that the natives ate “a small dog called a raccoon.” Apparently, the little masked animal was unfamiliar to the Englishman and he mistook it for a dog. In Algonquian, the animal is called “aroughcun” and that sounded like “raccoon” to Capt. Smith. The raccoon either did not inhabit the British Isles or they were extremely rare.

Raccoons were apparently quite rare as well in Southwest Arkansas early in the 20th Century. An elderly alderman named Thurston on the Washington, Ark. city council said he had never seen one as a boy, even though he and his brother trapped all the time. They would provide meat for the family and neighbors, cure the skins and send them to a place in St. Louis, along with a list on notebook paper of what they were sending. Not many days later, they would receive a check in the mail from the fur company up there. He said earning money that way was better than a paper route.

They sold some of the meat to a Mrs. Black, who ran a local restaurant. One winter day, she told Thurston and his brother that if they ever trapped a raccoon, she would give them a quarter for the meat. (Most carcasses went for a dime). She said her customers had been asking for raccoon.

Well, one night in the wee small hours, the brothers heard the dogs cut loose down in the bottoms below their house. Their father got out of bed, loaded his double-barrel 20 and said, “I got to go shut them dogs up. If I don’t shoot whatever it is they got treed down in yonder, ain’t none of us going to get any sleep.” Soon, the brothers heard both barrels go off and their father came trudging back. They heard him throw something in a box on the back porch where they kept game away from the dogs. He came by their room and said, “Boys, there’s a coon in the box y’all can have for the hide.”

At daybreak, they skinned the animal, took the meat to Mrs. Black, received their quarter and cured the hide. They included that skin in a bundle they sent to St. Louis and entered it on the notebook paper list: two possums, five squirrels, one coon. Soon they got a larger-than-expected check back in the mail along with a letter, part of which stated, “Boys, there was no raccoon hide in your recent shipment. There were two opossums, five squirrels and one fox.”

They never told Mrs. Black, because she bragged that her customers loved that coon they brought her and that if they got another one, she would give them a half-dollar for it. The moral of Thurston’s story, I guess, is “A fox by any other name would taste as sweet.”

Thurston passed away recently and we miss him on the city council. He was a responsible, very wise citizen who had a wonderful childhood. He was also a great storyteller.

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